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Nicholas of Cusa

Nicholas of Cusa (Nicolaus Cusanus), 1401?–1464, German humanist, scientist, statesman, and philosopher, from 1448 cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. The son of a fisherman, Nicholas was educated at Deventer, Heidelberg, Padua, Rome, and Cologne. He became bishop of Brixon (Bressanone) in 1450 and instituted widespread, though temporary, reforms of the monasteries. As papal legate he traveled throughout Europe preaching and negotiating diplomatic affairs for the Holy See. Nicholas' greatest achievements were in science and philosophy. His researches and writings formed major advances in Renaissance mathematics, astronomy, and mysticism. He held, before the time of Copernicus and Newton, that the nearly spherical earth revolves on its axis about the sun and that the stars are other worlds. He described the Gregorian calendar reform in detail, before it occurred. In mathematics Nicholas propounded significant concepts of the infinitesimal and contributed to modern relativity theory. His mystical religious philosophy was set forth in his essays De Docta Ignorantia [of learned ignorance] (1440, tr. 1954), De Conjuncturis Libri Duo, and De Visio Dei [vision of God] (1453, tr. 1928). It anticipated the direction of growth of Renaissance conjecture concerning the nature of man and his relationship to the cosmos.

See studies by M. Watanabe (1963); F. H. Burgevin (1969); and J. Hopkins (1986).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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